The Global Reporting Initiative (known as GRI) is an international independent standards organization that helps businesses, governments and other organizations understand and communicate their impacts on issues such as climate change, human rights and corruption. As of 2015, 7,500 organizations used GRI Guidelines for the sustainability reports. GRI Guidelines apply to multinational organizations, public agencies, smaller and medium enterprises, NGOs, industry groups and others. For municipal governments, they have generally been subsumed by similar guidelines from the UN ICLEI.
The GRI is an example of an organization that acts outside of the top-down power command structures associated with government (e.g., quasi-autonomous bodies and regulators). Environmental governance is the multifaceted and multilayered nature of "governing" the borderless and state-indiscriminate natural environment. Unlike major protected policy areas such as finance or defence, the environment requires sovereign states to sign up to treaties and multilateral agreements in order to coordinate action. Sustainability reporting is a more recent concept that encourages businesses and institutions to report on their environmental performance.
The GRI was formed by the United States-based non-profits Ceres (formerly the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies) and Tellus Institute, with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 1997. It released an "exposure draft" version of the Sustainability Reporting Guidelines in 1999, the first full version in 2000, the second version was released at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in Johannesburg—where the organization and the Guidelines were also referred to in the Plan of Implementation signed by all attending member states. Later that year it became a permanent institution. In 2002 GRI moved its Secretariat to Amsterdam, Netherlands. Although the GRI is independent, it remains a collaborating centre of UNEP and works in cooperation with the United Nations Global Compact.
A member of the board of the Dutch National Contact Point (NCP) of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises. Herman Mulder was appointed as a Chairman of the GRI in 2011. In the past Mr Mulder was a senior executive vice-president at ABN AMRO, and is now a chairman of the True Price.
The "GRI" refers to the global network of many thousands worldwide that create the Reporting Framework, use it in disclosing their sustainability performance, demand its use by organizations as the basis for information disclosure, or are actively engaged in improving the standard.
The network is supported by an institutional side of the GRI, which is made up of the following governance bodies: Board of Directors, Stakeholder Council, Technical Advisory Committee, Organizational Stakeholders, and a Secretariat. Diverse geographic and sector constituencies are represented in these governance bodies. The GRI headquarters and Secretariat is in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
The GRI framework aims to enable third parties to assess environmental impact from the activities of the company and its supply chain The standardized reporting guidelines concerning the environment are contained within the GRI Indicator Protocol Set. The Performance Indicators (PI) includes criteria on energy, biodiversity and emissions. There are 30 environmental indicators ranging from EN1 (materials used by weight) to EN30 (total environmental expenditures by type of investment).
The recent 3.1 guideline has been replaced by the materiality-based 4.0 guideline in 2014, which has raised critical comments regarding the comparability and credibility.
Sustainability reporting aims to standardize and quantify the environmental, social and governance costs and benefits derived from the activities of the reporting companies accordingly. Some of the examples of the reporting measures to be used would be the quantified results of the CO2 emissions, working and payment conditions, financial transparency and alike.
For the assessment of the social impact created by the reporting organization, GRI standards were created according to international labor practices and the environmental impact by conducting an independent audit. ISO 14010, ISO 14011, ISO 14012 and ISO 26000 set out a standard for assessing the environmental impact, while OHSAS 18001 lays down a health and safety risk management system. For instance, the ILO's eight core conventions outline specific groups or population that require special attention: women, children, migrant workers and their families, persons belonging to national or ethnic, linguistic, and religious minorities, indigenous peoples, and persons with disabilities. In order to circumvent "greenwashing" or falsified reporting, the financial institution can conduct an independent audit of the investee or enter into a dialogue with the top management of the company in question.
GRI's Data Partners collect and process information about GRI reporting and sustainability reporting in general. They regularly share data with GRI about reports and reporting organizations, and also serve as on-the-ground hubs, identifying reporting trends in their countries and regions. The report and organization related information provided by Data Partners is added to GRI's Sustainability Disclosure Database.
The GRI data partners' analysis of reports show an increase in GRI reporting worldwide. The official GRI data partner in The United States, The United Kingdom and The Republic of Ireland—The Governance & Accountability Institute, releases data tracking frequency and other aspects of GRI reporting in the benchmark S&P 500 and Fortune 500 companies.
A common criticism of GRI and the GRI guidelines are that the focus is on more reporting, not better reporting or more usable or actionable reporting. GRI's focus has been to continually get governments and stock exchanges to require more organisations around the world to produce sustainability reports, preferably with using the GRI guidelines. The focus on quantity over quality supports the value of GRI's brand but has also resulted in many reports that are little more than public relations efforts.
In 2013, GRI released the long-awaited update to its Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, G4, in which known defects are left firmly in place. Of particular concern is GRI's handling of the reporting principle known as sustainability context, without which there can be no bona fide sustainability reporting at all. By choosing to leave that principle in its prior state of disrepair, GRI has effectively consigned organizations to another five or six years of feckless reporting, and itself to irrelevance.
As GRI has been pointing out for over a decade now, corporate sustainability reports must be inclusive of sustainability context to be meaningful. Environmental impacts should be reported relative to ecological thresholds, and social impacts relative to human needs. At the same time, significant human rights issues such as freedom of expression and privacy are undermined. There simply cannot be any true, authentic, or empirical disclosure of sustainability performance unless such context is included; any more than there can be financial reporting without expenses being included.
In December 2014, EC has adopted a new directive obliging large multinational corporations to provide non-financial disclosure to the markets. The law applies to public companies with more than 500 employees. Companies that would provide such a reporting would be required to report on environmental, social and employee-related, human rights, anti-corruption and bribery matters. Additionally, these large corporations would be required to describe their business model, outcomes and risks of the policies on the above topics, and the diversity policy applied for management and supervisory bodies. The reporting techniques are encouraged to rely on recognized frameworks such as GRI's Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC), the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, OECD Guidelines, International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 26000 and the International Labour Organization (ILO) Tripartite Declaration.